When Robert Tinker founded the Concord Consortium in 1994, his goal was to make science exciting and open to all. From Bob’s earliest invention to make experimental data collection quick and easy with the use of fast-response sensors to his groundbreaking technology to expose the invisible and mysterious world of atoms and molecules in the Molecular Workbench, he hoped to encourage curiosity and bring out the inner scientist in everyone.
Prompted by the nation’s critical societal reckonings with questions of race, justice, and equity, we are reviewing our efforts to meet our organization’s ambitious goals. Does our vision of a deeply digital future truly include opportunities for the achievement of every student, regardless of background, skin color, or socioeconomic status? Does it value their histories, cultures, and experiences, and encourage their equal participation in society?
We have been taking stock of these questions and reconsidering the assumption that our sincere efforts have been sufficient.
We have learned that computers in the classroom and open access for teachers and students to quality digital learning resources—valuable as they are—are not enough to engage and advance all learners. We have recognized that science and science education have their own biases, and that STEM classrooms have an important place in ensuring a just and equitable society. We have acknowledged that the digital resources we have created and the research approaches and pedagogies we have used may have contributed to or even amplified existing inequities.
We have also learned that equity means different things to different people. One definition that we find especially helpful comes from the National Equity Project, which notes: “Educational equity means that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.”
As a result, we have pledged to rethink and refocus on what it means to design for equity in our projects and our organization. To express this intention, and to commit ourselves and to announce it for others, we have started by updating our vision and mission statements.
We envision a world where all students and teachers use effective digital resources to engage deeply, justly, and equitably with STEM concepts and practices in varied personal, cultural, and social contexts.
To innovate and inspire equitable, large-scale improvements in STEM teaching and learning through technology.
We are still learning how to design science, technology, engineering, and mathematics resources that are more socially and culturally relevant, how to support teachers in contextualizing materials to better meet students’ needs and backgrounds, how to ensure more diverse students’ inclusion in the STEM classroom, how to foster social justice in the STEM classroom and the world, and how educational research can benefit all students.
Some of our newest projects represent a variety of ways we are beginning to focus more intentionally on these issues.
We’re designing curriculum for middle school students in Alaska and Hawaii to learn about coastal erosion that includes both Indigenous knowledge and culture and Western science. Two equity-centered approaches undergird this effort as students’ home culture perspective is valued and they have access to translations and a scaffolded glossary of Indigenous and Western science terms based on Universal Design for Learning principles.
We’re building innovative curriculum materials about natural hazards—from flooding to hurricanes and wildfires—that recognize the devastation natural disasters have caused for millions of people, especially those living in marginalized communities. We are realizing that we cannot teach about risks and impacts without considering who is at risk and why.
We’re bringing scientific datasets about socioscientific issues to middle school students, including Multilingual Learners and those with limited access to technology, through data storytelling. Our approach is informed by research in ways to support marginalized students in developing academic language.
We’re deepening our understanding of how to build science curriculum that incorporates local experiences of minoritized youth, who often do not see themselves as belonging in science or who see science as irrelevant to their lives. We are learning that a more equitable approach to curriculum development is through co-design, so we are partnering with seventh grade students, teachers, and community members.
We’re creating interactive geoscience models about the connection between the rock cycle and plate tectonics that include scaffolds so more students can participate. This design reflects our growing understanding of how to support students with identified learning needs, particularly when computer simulations are complex and classroom talk is challenging and dynamic.
We’re designing a web-based systems modeling tool that includes verbal descriptions and graphical representations rather than formal programming to define system relationships. By doing so, we hope to support more students in creating their own computational simulations of phenomena and promote broader participation in systems thinking and computational thinking.
And we’re developing hundreds of assessment tasks aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for elementary and middle school students. Because we know that assessments can be biased, we review them all for scientific accuracy, equity, and fairness.
One of our earliest and continuing convictions is a belief in the educational value of providing resources openly and freely. As a consequence, we make our technology and curriculum resources, including our source code, available to all for free with open-source and open access licensing. And we are redoubling our efforts to improve the design of our online activities with accessibility in mind, focusing on aspects of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Through these and other efforts, we are attempting to understand and address equity, inclusion, and accessibility issues from a number of perspectives. We are committed to innovating and inspiring equitable, large-scale improvements in STEM teaching and learning through technology to help realize our vision: a world where all students and teachers use effective digital resources to engage deeply, justly, and equitably with STEM concepts and practices in varied personal, cultural, and social contexts.